Listening to the critics, you’d think the only people calling for an end to marijuana prohibition in California were a bunch of deadbeat, dirty stoners — which, if true, might be cause for concern, as polls show most residents of the state support legalizing the much-maligned weed. But contrary to stereotype, a broad coalition supports Proposition 19, the initiative on the November ballot that would legalize marijuana, from labor unions to law enforcement, with dozens of retired cops and judges lending their support to the argument that it is prohibition — not pot smoking — that poses the real threat to society.
“I was basically a drug warrior until I saw what was happening in my own courtroom,” James Gray, a retired Orange County Superior Court judge, told reporters on a press call Monday. “And then I started learning, seeing, watching, that the tougher we get with regard to non-violent drug offenses, literally the softer we get with regard to the prosecution of everything else, like robbery, rape and murder. Why? Because we only have so many resources in the criminal justice system.”
Gray spoke to mark the release of a letter signed by more than 30 retired law enforcement officials in California voicing support for Proposition 19. Put together by the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the letter blasts the status quo as a boon to organized crime and calls “for new laws that will effectively control and tax cannabis,” an effort signers say will dry up one of the leading sources of funding for the increasingly violent Mexican drug cartels.
Indeed, whatever one’s views about the drug itself, the war on pot is “not working and it hasn’t reduced the use of marijuana,” retired San Jose police chief Joseph McNamara argued on the call. Its illegality, meanwhile, “produces enormous funding for drug cartels and drug gangs and violence,” he noted. “The violence is not because people are getting stoned on marijuana. It’s caused by the whole gangster syndrome that exists when you establish criminal prohibition and drive the profits and prices up.”
That message — that pot legalization is less about condoning its use and more about making our communities safer — is echoed in the letter, addressed to the “Voters of California” and signed by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, among other notables.
“As criminal justice professionals, we have seen with our own eyes that keeping cannabis illegal damages public safety — for cannabis consumers and non-consumers alike,” the letter says. “If California’s voters make the sensible decision to effectively control and tax cannabis this November, it will eliminate illegal marijuana distribution networks, just as ending alcohol prohibition put a stop to violent and corrupting gangsters’ control of beer, wine and liquor sales.”
The letter’s release comes after all nine former heads of the Drug Enforcement Agency — that is, the former heads of a bureaucracy with a vested interested in maintaining costly drug prohibition, regardless of its failure — wrote Attorney General Eric Holder last month expressing “grave concern” about Proposition 19 and asking him to suppress the will of California voters should they embrace legalization. (See Firedoglake founder Jane Hamsher’s response).
“The California proposition is not a close call; it will be a clear conflict with established federal law and in fact will also violate our government’s treaty obligations ratified by Congress,” the former DEA officials wrote, urging Holder to consider suing the state of California just as the Obama administration has sued Arizona over its controversial immigration law. “We would expect the Department of Justice to act just as swiftly and for the same reason.”
Photo Credit: Dauvit Alexander